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Librarian Conditions Vastly Improved Since 1920s

Mar 30, 2009 9:25 AM | 4 comments

Librarians at tea, former Brownsville Children's Library

Although the ladies in the photograph appear to be in good health and are enjoying their tea in pleasant surroundings, evidence uncovered today reveals stark truths about the lives of librarians in the 1920s. Seeking something else entirely, I stumbled upon the following in the 1921 Annual Report of Brooklyn Public Library, which, thanks to the kind ministrations of Google Books is now available online. Evidently it was the habit of the Assistant Chief Librarian to list in one paragraph all those who had  fallen in the line of duty during the year.  Call me twisted, but to me the resultant litany is darkly comic. Who knew that working in a library could be so dangerous to your health?

"The year has marked the termination of service rendered over an unusually long period of several members of the staff. Mr. William E. Lanchantin, Bursar, was stricken with paralysis on April llth. He came to the Library, August 6, 1903. Miss Frances Elcock was appointed in 1891 an assistant in the Union for Christian Work Library, and continued her services when that library became the Schermerhorn Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, January 2, 1901. In April, Miss Elcock became physically incapacitated and was released from her duties. The name of Miss Charlotte A. Todd has been carried on the pay roll since October 1, 1917. At that time Miss Todd became mentally incapacitated, and because of the fact that she had been with the Library since the opening of the Schermerhorn Branch she was given an indefinite leave. With the closing of the Schermerhorn Branch her name was dropped. Ill health compelled Miss Elizabeth M. Johnson to relinquish her duties on October 14, 1921. She had been in the Reference Department of Montague since 1889. Miss Louise M. Chappuis of the Cataloguing Department went on her summer vacation to Florida, and while there, discovered that she had an incurable disease. An operation was performed, but she has not been able to return to the Library. Miss Chappuis entered the Library's service, January 8, 1902. Although the Library has no pension system nor retiring allowance, in view of the long and faithful service rendered, the Trustees carried these names on the pay roll through the end of the year. Miss Louise F. Tweedy, Library Assistant, Grade 2, at the Montague Branch, submitted her resignation on December 22, 1921, on account of ill health. She was a member of the Brooklyn Library Staff, and continued her services with the Brooklyn Public Library after June 12, 1903. Mr. John W. Johns, Caretaker at the Borough Park Branch, died on January 26, 1921. He entered the Library service August 16, 1913. Mr. William F. Fales, Head Caretaker at the Eastern Parkway Branch, resigned on account of ill health on May 14, 1921, after working for the Library for over eleven years, and died on May 25, 1921."

But don't worry--we're doing much better these days.

Photograph: Live Librarians at tea, former Brownsville Children's Library (now Stone Avenue Branch)  ca. 1915

Important Things in Small Packages

Mar 25, 2009 9:45 AM | 1 comment

I could write many, many entries on Brooklyn during World War II (and perhaps someday I will), but for the time being I am drawn to a small, rarely noticed item in our collection:

There is nothing astounding about this particular ration book, other than the fact that it still exists.  I have been fascinated with the World War II home front since I first encountered the American Girl tales in my childhood, but I have never seen an actual ration book.  So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a few of them while preparing for a lesson on war efforts in Brooklyn.

The construction of the book is unimposing and reflective of a period when everything was conserved for the greater good.  The cover is thin, the stamps are even thinner, and the entire book is the size of a passport.  One can imagine that many a ration book was damaged or lost. 

To me, the book is evidence of the struggle and sacrifice that every family had to face during the war.  The instructions are clear and intimidating: "Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy."  And the emphasis on rationing as much as possible is repeated time and again: "If you don't need it, DON'T BUY IT."

Even the front with its official identification information, including height, weight, and occupation, emphasizes the intense importance of this book.  This is not just an accessory for the weekly grocery shopping; it is a government-issued tool of the war effort.  The stamps themselves include images of tanks, guns, and aircraft carriers - constant reminders that, no matter how small, every action at home had an impact overseas.

Our bi-weekly quizz. Mystery picture.

Mar 24, 2009 4:41 PM | 2 comments

Attention Brooklyn Buffs and Buffettes--can you identify the building in this picture? Clue--it was in Brooklyn, and the photo was taken in May 1914.  Post your answers or guesses as a comment and collect kudos for being the first to get it right. AND--the winner gets a free 8 x 10 copy print of the featured picture.  All comments will be published together when the winner is announced so as not to give the game away.

Baseball Fanatics Beware

Mar 23, 2009 1:55 PM | 3 comments

Opening night of the 2009 Major League Baseball season is just 12 short nights away as I write.  Brooklyn’s baseball team is long gone, the Dodgers having played their last game in Brooklyn in 1957.  While working on some research for a patron, I found a cheeky bit of ephemera for Brooklyn Dodger fans hiding in the Ephemera Collection files.  Called “A Health and Safety Manual for the 1954 Baseball Season for Spectators, for Radio and TV fans and for all Brooklynites and other Dodger fans whereever they are,” this guide instructs Dodger fans on how to avoid such conditions as: 

“Hyperpiesia Straphicoi Enthusiastae – Dodger Fans Hypertension”

“Ulcus Brooklynensis Lodorum – Brooklyn Praisers’ Ulcers – Duodenal, Peptic, and Gastric”

“Broken Noses – Brooklynese for an ailment which is not phychosomatic but is very disturbing” 

This guide was produced by the Public Information Department, Brooklyn Chapter, American Red Cross and Radio Station WMGM (which broadcasted Brooklyn Dodger games in the 1950s).  The editors allow that the guide may be somewhat in jest, but overexcitement by Dodger fans can lead to serious injuries (I agree - I've injured myself plenty of times as a fan).  

The subtitle to this little piece is called "Care and Protection of Dodger Fans, Volume IV".  Volume IV?  Were they kiddng?  Did they really have 3 previous editions? Well, judging from many articles and reminiscences, Brooklyn Dodger fans were pretty rowdy.   I’ll keep their suggestions in mind this baseball season.   

I've been a Dodger fan all of my life (the Los Angeles Dodgers, since I'm too young to have loved the Brooklyn team), but I have to admit, while I haven't broken anyone's nose at a baseball game, I have come close in my excitement -- never my anger.  Choking on food while cheering, check.  Tip #5 tells me how to avoid the combination of cheering and eating.  These are a few of the highlights that I will heed while I am watching games in the ball parks (New York City sees the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field open this year), listening to games on the radio, or watching the games on my laptop.  Perhaps I will make myself a copy of these tips and read them before every game - if not for the advice then just for the fun of it. 

Tip #3:  “Root calmly, thoughtfully and coherently.  Avoid sore throats, strained voice boxes, fisticuff provoking insults and guilt feelings which might arise as you wonder whether or not you exposed the children to undue profanity.  When shouting (with controlled verve), take care not to shake loose bridgework, bite your tongue or dislocate your jaw.” 

Tip #6:  Don’t flail about during moments of exultation.  When Roy Campanella hits that tenth inning home run, control any tendency toward wild waving.  You might hurt your neighbor or yourself, or run your hand through the radio loudspeaker or television screen.” 

Tip #9: If Dodger fielding or baserunning ever reverts to the days of Babe Herman (although with players like Robinson, Gillam, Cox, Reese and Hodges it’s unlikely), lower your head quickly between your knees to avoid fainting.  Then remain perfectly still while regaining your composure.  This goes double for dropped third strikes and Giant home runs with the bases loaded.  


Photo: Top: Dom Barbuto, Brooklyn Eagle 1953

Illustration: Justine Ranson Schachter, 1954 from "How to Avoid Hyperpiesia Straphoicoi Enthusiastae, Ulcus Brooklynensis Ludorum (Duodeni, Pepti, et Gastri) AND Broken Noses."  Care and Protection of Dodger Fans, Volume IV 1954


Wait, there's more?

Mar 20, 2009 2:42 PM | 0 comments

If you're a photo nut like me, you may be scrolling through the posts on Brooklynology, thinking "Wow! These are awesome pics! I wonder if they have any more?" THOM 0083  Well, have I got news for you. The answer is YES!

For some instant gratification, start at the Historic Brooklyn Photo Galleries.  Browse through photos by selected themes such as neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and transportation.

If that's not enough, you can search more than 15,000 photographs in the BPL catalog.  If Coney Island is your thing, a simple keyword search will give you a list of books along with unique photographs from the Brooklyn Collection.CONE 0425 You can also find photos from the Historic Photos page, which searches the BPL catalog and gives you a list of thumbnail images. And if you find one you really like, you can buy a high resolution digital image or print. The reproduction fees support the preservation of these unique collections. So not only do you get art for your wall, you get that warm fuzzy feeling from supporting a worthy cause. We are adding photographs every day so keep coming back, and enjoy!